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How not to rename your TV network

Over the last week or so, I've been watching a fair bit of the Tour de France on OLN TV. When OLN launched a few years back, it was The Outdoor Life Network. As their programming expanded, they shortened that (thankfully) to OLN TV. But as of September, as they've seemingly been telling me every 10 minutes for several hours each morning, they're becoming Versus. Quoting from their press release:

Versus was the name that consistently rose to the top in focus group after focus group. Sports fans felt it was not only strong, but that it conveyed an idea and an energy that suggests a network experience centered on competition.

While I certainly don't disagree with the fact that the name suggests a network experience focused on competition, I'm not so sure that makes it a great name for a network. Personally, I think it just sounds silly, and it will make watercooler conversations more difficult. "Hey, did you catch that NHL game on Versus last night?"..."Is Versus going to show the Tour today?" Maybe it's just me, but Versus as a network name just seems wrong, somehow.

What's really sad is that they probably spent a fair bit of money on the research and focus groups to find their new identity. Add in the costs of rebranding all your merchandise, print ads, and online graphics, and we're talking about a huge investment of capital. And all of that for Versus? If we're going to use full English words, why not Compete or Battle or Strive or Match?

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I prefer network names that aren't full-on words. Give me ABC, NBC, ESPN, TNT, etc. over Discovery (though as words go, that one's pretty good), Lifetime, or Biography. Why? I'm not sure, other than they're easier to work into conversation without worrying about context, and they're much quicker to type :).

I guess I'll have to adjust, but Versus will always probably always be OLN around our home. And speaking of OLN, I have to get back to the time trial now!

11 Comments

  1. This just goes to show you that sometimes "Focus Groups" should not be the end to all means. Focus Groups limit the creativity of an individual or group trying to become something of a stand alone figure in the design community.

    When you design for a focus group your limiting the amount of work needed by the creative team. You can't really rely on a focus group because at times they will be influenced by outsiders or current events at the time. There is no outlook of what it will look like in the future, only in the moment.

    I agree with Rob. The name sounds silly. Sounds more like a one on one street fighting game channel than one that caters to many different sports.

  2. I think it's a "Lexus" thing. They're probably trying to create what is nowadays known as a premium brand. And "Versus" certainly sounds more distinguished than "Compete" or any combination of letters.

  3. OLN was problematic in the first place.

    OLN: Online Network?

    OLN: Other Lifetime Network?

    OLN: The Ken Olin channel?

    Oh yeah, there's a carpload of fishing programs on that channel. That and hockey, at least this past season. If not for the fishy programming I wouldn't have ever remembered that it was the Outdoor Life Network.

    Outdoor and Television are two words I'll never associate with each other.

    VS does look better on a channel guide. VSN or VS-TV would work. They're nuts if they think VERSUS is the way to sell it instead of VS.

    OLN a victim of marketing geniuses? Sure, but it never registered in the first place.

  4. I have started watching OLN a lot more this year - played far more hockey than the standard networks. But there was a lot of criticism about the NHL move to OLN - what is hockey doing on The Outdoor life Network? So I am happy to see a change in the name ... however, I agree "Verses" is a bad choice - to awkward, does not roll off the tongue.

    Now, I don't agree that you need an acronym, channels like History, Discovery, Biography work fine. Combined with "channel" - History channel, Biography channel - they work in conversation without problems. It just has to be a name that flows and is focused on your content ... you can't as easily say "the verses channel" which will make it tough at the watercooler ...

    ... but then again, "iPod" was not a name I liked in 2001 either.

    I have seen them use "VS." in their ads and I would suspect that people will use "V"-"S" to reference the channel in conversation, so that is likely what we will know it as in a short time.

  5. With more silly name news, Cox Communications sent me a letter today saying they want to be called 'suddenLink' from now on.

    That one had me floored as well. Makes Versus seem pretty tame... :)

  6. At least OLN didn't change the meaning of the acronym before going to Versus -- remember The Nashville Network/The National Network/Spike? (And I don't see anyone suing them over Versus, but you never know.)

    To be honest, with digital cable guides these days, I rarely realize what channel I'm watching unless I've deliberately chosen to watch a particular channel. It took me a couple months to remember where the heck OLN was to find the hockey games without checking out the guide.

  7. Having participated in numerous focus groups, I can see how the winner could be a name that's weird for a sports channel, but perfect for a court channel, lawyers being about the only people who use "versus."

    In many cases, the dynamics of focus groups aren't right. The wrong sort often taken over. The less they know, they more they want to dominate. I went to a focus group for a Very Large Software Company We All Know, hoping to tell them the default colors in their spreadsheet were gaudy and ugly. Alas, the discussion was dominated by a strident, sales sort who thought those same colors weren't bright enough. I can only assume he meant colors that glow in the dark. Sigh!

    Also, many in focus groups are there for the extra money (typically not that much) and come in after a hard day's work. In those circumstances, it takes a lot of discipline to force yourself to think hard about what you say. It's easier just to nod and agree to something vague but catchy like Versus--or Vista, also probably a product of focus groups.

    I'm a good example of the tiredness problem. After a hard day of writing, I can't come up with a name for this channel other than SWEAT. Hey, it is memorable and it is the one thing almost all sports have in common!

    OLN/SWEAT can visit my website for an address to send that large check and letter of grateful appreciation.

    --Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

  8. I was looking at my favorite Hockey team's website and downloaded the schedule.

    When I saw the TV coverage by "Versus" I panicked. I haven't watched OLN since the end of Hockey last season. (I don't watch much TV period) Relief washed over me b/c I am not going to miss games.

    Seems like a hokey (not hockey) name to me. Guys at the watercooler won't want to say "Versus" in conversation b/c it sounds too girly, or it sounds like biblical quote time, or the little known goddess from Roman times that was behind the scenes for Venus.
    Saying V-S out loud is too close to BS, and V-S sounds too much like a new version of VD.

    They wasted their money - and will have a tough sell.
    However - I will watch the games on their network no matter what they are called.

    I would have voted for SHOC. Sports, Hunting, Outdoors and Competition. It would have beat Fishing, Outdoors, Competition, Hunting, and Sports (FOCHS... pronounced - well you get it) :-)

  9. Versus sounded terrible when you first mentioned it, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Actually, it was the water cooler conversation that turned me around. Like any new name, it sounds strange at first, and will be second nature in a few weeks.

    'suddenLink', however, sounds terrible. I would be tempted to make my monthly cable check payable to 'sausageLink' and see how long the name sticks.

  10. They should just shorten it to the abbreviation of versus: The VS Network, while using the word versus in their tagline somehow.

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